Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls pays tribute to one of the most influential women in my life, the dancer and teacher, Evelyn King, who—after a successful career as a ballerina as well as a modern and stage performer—turned her talents to teaching girls and young women.
Every Saturday morning, a half dozen of us climbed the stairs through the wooded area of Parnassas Hill to her dance studio, complete with full-length mirrors, barre surrounding three sides of the ballroom, hard wood flooring with a sunroom (also with barre) overlooking the Haight-Ashbury and Twin Peaks neighborhoods of San Francisco. In this grand setting, we were taught the fundamentals of ballet, modern/jazz and tap dance and such wonders as the hula. Each of us carried our pink and black velour-embossed Evelyn King School of Dance cases with pride.
My mother’s intention was to give my younger sister and I the poise and confidence that having command of our growing bodies gave us. Mrs. King had additional ambition for us. We also learned the skills of concentration, memorization and performance. Each year, we gave dance recitals for, not only our parents and friends, but also in the community. Our teacher also had requirements of our parents, namely our mothers, who were asked to make our costumes for such entertainments as a glow-in-blacklight production of Putting on the Ritz, with top hat and tails, the aforementioned hula and a lively Mexican Hat Dance—for which our mothers made sequined, hand-painted double-circle muslin skirts (I have kept mine all these many years).
Though Mrs. King had adult students, we only met one of them—a ballerina whose skill was well-beyond any that we aspired to attain. But we watched her with awe and wonder while she performed Grand Jeté, Chaînés, Battement in the studio that Mrs. King’s wealthy, adoring husband had built onto the back of the cliff-hanging mansion with a view of Kezar Stadium.
I continue to love to dance, have performed while a member of several community dance groups, the benefits of those years in Evelyn King’s School of Dance are timeless and ever-present. I learned to stand tall and straight, move across the room, have pride and confidence in my body, as well as the continually useful “ball-and-chain” which keeps me entertained while waiting for the bus.
All of these benefits were at the behest (and truthfully, the insistence) of my mother, aided by my father, who was a classy dancer in his own right. Though I wasn’t blessed with little girls, my sons have also benefitted from the understanding I learned of the importance of taking pride in their physical appearance and ability—as a huge first, and fundamental, element of self-esteem.
And there is another, even more significant, benefit: like singing, while you are dancing, you literally can “Dance Your Blues Away.” Try it!